Excerpt: 'Triumph' by Carolyn Jessop

Read an excerpt from Carolyn Jessop's book 'Triumph'

ByABC News via GMA logo
May 5, 2010, 2:48 PM

May 6, 2010— -- In "Triumph," Carolyn Jessop writes about growing up in a polygamist sect and her April 2003 escape from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Jessop, 42, begins her story on April 3, 2008, when the church's Texas ranch was raided by law enforcement officials and she watched hundreds of children, some her own stepchildren, involved in a case that would unfold in the spotlight of the national media.

Read the excerpt below, and then head to the "Good Morning America" Library to find more good reads.

It was Thursday, April 3, 2008. I was home in West Jordan, Utah, folding laundry in my bedroom, when my cell phone rang.

"Carolyn, it's Kathy. Something is going on at the ranch. Law enforcement is at the gate, and the country road has been shut down."

Kathy Mankin and her husband, Randy, publish The Eldorado Success, the local newspaper in Eldorado, Texas, the town nearest to the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a $20 million compound spread across seventeen hundred acres in West Texas. The YFZ Ranch is owned and operated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the polygamous Mormon cult in which I'd spent my entire life until fleeing in April 2003. My ex-husband, Merril Jessop, had been running the ranch since becoming one of the highest- ranking men in the FLDS in 2006.

Kathy and Randy had been covering the FLDS since 2003, when the ranch was bought under false pretenses as a corporate retreat and lodge. On March 24, 2004, with the headline "Corporate Retreat or Prophet's Refuge?" the Mankins broke the news to the residents of Eldorado—a town of roughly two thousand residents, thirteen churches, three restaurants, and an aging motel—that their new neighbors were members of an extreme polygamous sect. Kathy and I had been in touch since 2006, when she called to find out what might be going on at the ranch and to broaden her knowledge of the FLDS. This time,though, her voice sounded urgent.

"Randy asked one of the law enforcement officers where they were all coming from, and he said they were coming in from everywhere," she told me. She said it was hard to get information because law enforcement was keeping the media out of the area. She was worried about an ugly showdown if the FLDS did not cooperate.

My phone rang nonstop for the rest of the night. It soon became clear that Merril was in a major confrontation with the law. Since the national media had no idea what was going on yet, we couldn't turn on the TV for information. All I knew were the bits and pieces that my callers told me.

Of course I knew just how dangerous this situation could become. It was no secret within the FLDS that members would be proud to die for the prophet. In fact, Warren Jeffs, the now-imprisoned leader of the FLDS, once asked at the regular monthly meeting for FLDS men how many would be willing to die for him. As the rest of the community learned immediately afterward— this was the kind of news that spread like wildfire—every single one of the men stood. Then again, no one would have dared not to.

My greatest fear was that what ever was happening at the YFZ Ranch could explode into another Waco, the Texas town where seventy- six people died back in 1993, when the Branch Davidian compound, run by the self-styled prophet David Koresh, burned to the ground after being raided by federal agents. Footage of that raid circulated among the FLDS as an example of how corrupt the government had become. FLDS leaders blamed the government for killing everyone at Waco.

I had eight stepchildren on the YFZ Ranch who were younger than eighteen and several more who were adults. I had taught a few of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs's wives when I was a schoolteacher, and I was concerned that they might be on the ranch, too. Severing myself from the FLDS did not mean I stopped caring about those I'd loved when I was there. It was a constant source of guilt that I'd been unable to protect those loved ones as much as I'd managed to protect my own children. In the nearly six years since I'd fled, my life—and my children's—had steadily improved. Knowing firsthand how joyful life could be made me yearn even more that those still mired in the cult might one day cut themselves loose.